BLACKSBURG — The latest chapter in the Commonwealth Cup was as wild as it gets.
And Virginia Tech’s season continues — in one of the most incredible finishes in the history of the series — as a Brian Johnson field goal and game-ending turnover forced by the Hokies’ defense in overtime gave Tech an unlikely 34-31 victory over Virginia on Friday at Lane Stadium.
It was the first overtime game in the history of the rivalry.
“That was fantastic,” Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said . “I’m not sure what to say about the game. There were a lot of plays on both sides of the ball. Two teams that obviously wanted to find a way to win the game.”
Fuente’s group did just that in overtime when it recovered a bad exchange on a handoff between quarterback Bryce Perkins and running back Jordan Ellis to end the game. Defensive end Emmanuel Belmar recovered the fumble after linebacker Rayshard Ashby went untouched through the line, leaving Perkins little time to make sure Ellis had the ball.
The victory makes a Dec. 1 game against Marshall at Lane Stadium official. The Hokies (5-6, 4-4 ACC) need to win to qualify for their 26th straight bowl game.
“Belmar’s been beat up and he shows up in practices every day,” Fuente said. “He got carted off once. He’s playing on one leg out there. But he’s tough and what this team is about. And for him to recover that I think is pretty poetic.”
Virginia (7-5, 4-4 ACC) had stormed back from a 14-0 first-half deficit by scoring touchdowns on four straight possessions in the second half to take a 31-24 lead with 2:41 to go in the game. Perkins was at the center of the comeback effort.
The quarterback overcame a sluggish first half and the left ankle injury he suffered last week against Georgia Tech to erase the early deficit. Perkins completed 14 of 29 passes for 259 yards with three touchdowns. He also ran the ball 24 times for 112 yards.
Linebacker Charles Snowden’s interception with 3:40 left seemingly buried Virginia Tech, but the Cavaliers’ inability to score a touchdown came back to haunt them. Virginia had to settle for a field goal and that allowed Virginia Tech to force overtime by driving 75 yards in five plays.
Running back Steven Peoples fumbled into the end zone where teammate Hezekiah Grimsley recovered the loose ball for the game-tying touchdown, which made 31-31 in the final two minutes.
“The fumble was so bang-bang I don’t know what happened, to be honest with you,” Fuente said. “We had a nice crease in there and Steven was carrying the ball, he was moving fast and I just couldn’t get eyes on the ball. I heard somebody on the headset say fumble and all I could see was bodies.”
The Hokies jumped out in front on unpredictable plays as well. Receiver Tre Turner put his team up 7-0 toward the end of the first half with a spectacular one-handed touchdown grab. The true freshman followed that up by blocking a punt on the Cavaliers’ ensuing possession, and the Hokies recovered for a touchdown by Jovonn Quillen to make it 14-0
It was Virginia Tech’s first two-possession lead since a win over Duke in September, but the Hokies’ second-half woes continued. The Hokies were outscored 63-0 in the third quarter in their last four home games.
Perkins kicked off the comeback with a 29-yard touchdown pass to Joe Reed early in the third quarter. Perkins was 3 of 3 on the drive for 55 yards. Reed made an impressive diving grab in the end zone while falling to the ground and cut Tech’s lead to 14-7 with 11:03 left in the quarter.
Virginia Tech ended its third quarter scoreless drought with a 31-yard field goal from Johnson, but it wasn’t enough with Virginia’s offense hitting its stride.
UVa quickly answered with a 75-yard touchdown from Reed. He caught the ball right at the first-down marker, but made a pair of defenders miss, finding his way down the field to make it 17-14 with 3:57 left in the third.
Virginia Tech turned to Turner for a spark once again. The receiver had a 45-yard catch to get the Hokies into the red zone where DeShawn McClease scored a touchdown on the opening play of the fourth quarter. McClease’s 2-yard touchdown pushed the Hokies lead back to 10 points at 24-14.
“Going through the whole game, all the emotions going through everyone, the tables turning,” Turner said. “It was big time.”
The momentum was short-lived.
Virginia answered with another quick drive that ended up with Jordan Ellis scoring from 12 yards out to make it 24-21 with 12:55 to go in the game. Perkins gave Virginia its first lead with 6:51 left in the game on a 29-yard touchdown pass to Hasise Dubois. The Cavaliers scored on four straight drives to jump out in front.
The drama of the final minutes overshadowed Turner’s early heroics.
Turner gave Virginia Tech a 7-0 lead with 2:44 to go in the first half. Turner had Virginia defensive back Bryce Hall wrestling for position on the play with the receiver’s right arm wrapped up, so Turner just pulled the ball down with his left hand.
The receiver has slowly turned into a starter this season by providing fans a series of spectacular plays for an otherwise lifeless Hokies’ offensive. He came into the game with 18 catches for 327 yards with two touchdowns. He’s averaged 18.2 yards per catch this year with five catches of 25 yards or more.
Turner had a 43-yard run on a jet sweep earlier in the half to get the offense into Virginia territory, but the drive resulted in a punt. The pair of touchdowns helped erase the sting of Virginia Tech coming up with no points — a missed field goal, two punts — after crossing midfield on three of its first four possessions.
Virginia Tech set the tone early with its inspired defensive play. Virginia didn’t help its own cause either with a series of early penalties, including an illegal block and false start.
The Hokies nearly forced a turnover on the opening series when Perkins bobbled a snap backed up to his end zone. TyJuan Garbutt grabbed Perkins just as the quarterback was trying to regain control of the ball. Perkins ended up throwing it away, but landed awkwardly on the play.
Perkins came up limping and the two teams exchanged words with freshman linebacker Dax Hollifield right at the center of the dust up.
Virginia’s offense didn’t convert a first down until there was 2:25 left in the first quarter.
The Cavaliers put together an extended drive to close out the first quarter, crossing midfield for the first time. They converted three third down s to get inside Virginia Tech’s 15-yard line, but the drive came to an abrupt end when Perkins fumbled the ball on a draw up the middle for a short game.
Senior Ricky Walker, who wore Frank Beamer’s No. 25 jersey, jumped on Perkins’ back and helped knock it loose, with Hollifield recovering. It was the first forced fumble in Walker’s career.
Virginia Tech’s defense held Virginia to 106 total yards in the first half (3.1 yards per play). Perkins was 5 of 16 for 34 yards going into halftime. He carried the ball 12 times for 48 yards. His longest play of the half was for only 12 yards.
“That was for the seniors,” Willis said. “I wasn’t going to let them go out on a bad note. We still have a chance to turn the season around if we play our cards right. We are just doing everything we can to keep the next streak alive trying to go to a bowl game. We owe it to these seniors.